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06 Apr 2015

Don’t Let Google Find You Unresponsive

About a month ago, Google announced that it would be implementing some changes to the way mobile-friendly websites are ranked in search results, staring from April 21.

As with nearly every change to the algorithms that Google uses to determine a site’s search engine ranking, this is a game-changer.

Google’s aim is to return the most relevant and useful list of suggested pages or sites to each and every user that does a Google search (and of course that’s the vast majority of users, both on desktops and handheld devices).

That’s why they regularly adjust their algorithms to give greater weight to the elements they believe contribute to both better usability and greater relevance.

They are also constantly trying to beat the ‘cheats’ by monitoring the things that some less-than-scrupulous people try to incorporate into websites in order to game the system.

As you may know, a while back they made some tweaks that penalised any site that used methods such as stuffing pages with keywords purely for ranking purposes or loading up on links created specifically to make the site look like it had plenty of useful relationships.

The great thing about this is that the more Google refines the way its search engines work, the more it rewards best practice in website design, development and management.

For example if a site is slow to load, it shouldn’t rank as highly as a similar one that is quick to load and easy to navigate. It’s just common sense, and Google is encouraging us all to do our job well by rewarding good work.

But it’s worth keeping in mind that even if you have a great site and you are happy with the functionality, usability and content that Google indexes, there are still competitor sites improving and therefore passing you in the rankings.

By standing still, you are in fact going backwards in the ultra-competitive world of search engine optimisation.

Now add this new wrinkle into the equation: by not having a mobile-friendly website, you will be penalised by Google’s algorithm to the extent that when someone does a search on their mobile device – and keep in mind that last year the number of mobile searches outstripped desktop ones – you won’t rank.

Take that in for a moment or two.

If you don’t have a mobile-friendly site you will essentially not appear in more than half the searches being done!

So what should you do?

Fortunately Google is particularly forthcoming with information, advice and guidelines for web designers and developers, and it’s our job to keep up-to-date with their recommendations.

In mid-2012, Google pretty much got off the fence in regard to what constitutes a smartphone-optimised site, coming down firmly on the side of responsive web design.

We were developing responsive sites before then, but Google’s stamp of approval basically told us to stop thinking about anything else and focus on refining the art of responsive web design.

For those unfamiliar with the term, responsive web design means building a site with code that allows the presentation of the pages to change to the optimum layout for whatever screen dimensions the user is viewing it on.

It also takes into account the capabilities of the viewing device, for example with a different menu and making phone numbers ‘active’ on mobile devices (so a user can click to initiate a call).

So where some people previously built a separate mobile-friendly site, with a separate URL (usually by adding m. to the front of the main website’s domain), Google more or less told us that wasn’t the right approach.

Google prefers to index the site’s content once, then determine how well the site performs on desktops and mobiles, rather than having two separate sites to index and having to decide which link to offer each user, depending on their device.

But let’s not make this all about Google – even if they do have the user’s best interests at heart.

Now that thousands of responsive sites have been created, there is a lot of data comparing their performance with other options, including having separate desktop and mobile sites and, of course, forcing users to view a non-responsive site on a handset.

All of the indications are that, in addition to being more user-friendly, responsive sites have both higher conversion rates and lower bounce rates (the bounce rate is the percentage of visitors to your site who simply land on it and then go away).

So converting your site to a responsive one not only means having it considered relevant and useful by Google but also it being more effective as an interface with potential customers – and who doesn’t want that?

Armed with all of that information, and much more, SeeSharp Productions looks to strike the perfect balance between visual communications, technical functionality and the funnels to client conversion.

We avoid the trap some people fall into of putting too much emphasis on one aspect or another. For example you can spend a lot of your budget on the graphic design component of a website, but if that’s at the expense of functionality it’s all in vain.

Even if a non-responsive-design site looks amazing, with all sorts of animations, Google is telling us it’s no longer relevant.

By the same token you could put a great deal of effort into the technical side of your site, with lots of automation and clever functionality, but if it lacks the correct visual communication elements to guide the user’s eye to where they need to go to be converted from a visitor into a client, you’re not helping your business.

Our aim is to not only help clients understand how best to represent their business online, but deliver a site where users can find what they’re looking for.

Approached correctly, responsive design lets us do everything we need to.

If all of this has given you something to think about and you’re wondering what to do next, we’d be happy to have a look at your website and offer an assessment of what you need to do to get on the responsive web design express!

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